Imagine if The Bling Ring were a cheap slasher film directed by Tim & Eric and you might have a decent idea of how jarring #horror is as a feature film experience. An explosion of emojis, group texts, cyber-bullying and, oddly enough, fine art, #horror is an entirely idiosyncratic film, a sort of modern take on the giallo style-over-substance horror/mystery formula, with its stylization firmly in line with the vibrant vapidity of life online in the 2010s. It’s such a strange, difficult to stomach experience that it somehow makes total sense that the film premiered as The Museum of Modern Art in NYC before promptly going straight to VOD with little to no critical fanfare. That’s exactly what #horror is in a nutshell. Simultaneously functioning as a cheap horror flick & a precious fine art piece, it’s the exact kind of compromise between high art & low trash that always wins me over, even when its deeply flawed . . . especially when it’s deeply flawed.
Centered on a slumber party between a group of wealthy, spoiled, precocious brats, #horror aims for the same kind of cyberbullying-as-horror aesthetic achieved in last summer’s Unfriended, except that instead of adopting the look of a live group chat it works more in the realm of viral videos & cheap social network games. This particular crew of 12 year old girls are even more vicious than the usual Mean Girls™ stereotype. While taking selfies, playing dress-up, and experimenting with the vice of vodka cranberries, they constantly insult & tear each other down, submitting each verbal jab online for posterity. Their attacks on each others’ character & looks are rewarded with “points” & “likes” on the fictional social media video game they’re hopelessly addicted to. They push this cruelty as far as they possibly can, twisting the knife with statements like “I’d cry too if I were you. Actually, I’d just kill myself,” and making fun of each other for everything from overeating to grieving for their mother’s death. This is horrifying enough on its own, but it’s made even more disturbing by a mysterious slasher’s killing spree that disposes of the girls one victim at a time.
Although the film occasionally deals with such hefty subjects as cutting & bulimia, it also caters to an overwhelming sense of satirical parody. Mimicking the distracted, scatterbrained mania of social media obsession, #horror is a feat in hyperactive editing. The kaleidoscopic emoji color palette of its central video game gimmick combines with indie pop songstress EMA’s intense soundtrack work to make for a truly eccentric, singular experience I can’t say I’ve ever seen on film before. The thing #horror gets exactly right are the way it turns 12 year old’s concerns into tangible horrors. Older men are horrifying threats. Your online reputation means everything. The idea of putting your phone away for an hour is beyond reason, etc. Because of the compromised art-trash tone, though, this aspect sometimes devolves in to full-blown camp, like in a scene where a girl runs frightened in the woods while mean tweets & hashtags pop up on the screen as if they were chasing her. #horror is a bizarre work of mixed tones, as strange of a mashup of style & presentation as seeing a Lisa Frank depiction of a gruesome murder framed & hanging in a stuffy art gallery. I think I loved it? It’s near impossible to tell. What I can say for sure is that it was fascinating.